Core beliefs – developing processes to change them

Core beliefs are, by definition, deeply embedded and resistant to extraction. It’s not effective either to fight them or to try and ignore them. However they can be transformed into something extremely positive and useful.  I believe that a number of factors have to be in place if we are to do this effectively. For a start I suspect that one thought-form can only be replaced with another thought-form; nature abhors a vacuum. You can blow off the ‘steam’ that results from the workings of the core belief with a purely emotional release, but you cannot change the belief itself in this way. That’s because the emotions are only the symptoms, not the cause of the trouble.

Another key recognition is that the old beliefs met important needs for the child who adopted them, and strong feelings are tied up with those needs and the situation which led to their adoption. Safety is often an issue, and it can even be a matter of physical survival. It takes courage to relinquish talismanic beliefs that have been part of us for decades, without knowing that we can find other ways of being safe. On the other side of the equation – and usually more present to the individual seeking healing –  are all the needs which have been frustrated by the stranglehold of the core belief (often including freedom, connection, and growth). The discomfort caused by the separation from these needs can act as the stimulus we need to start changing the story. But ditching a core belief is not a step to take lightly. It’s like when a hermit crab changes shells for a bigger model. You need to find a new story and test it very carefully before abandoning the old one.

The “Transforming the Pain of Unmet Needs to the Beauty of the Needs” process developed by Robert Gonzales touches on some of these issues, especially in the NVC Dance Floor version created by Gina Lawrie and Bridget Belgrave, where the ‘jackal thoughts’ are brought out into the open right at the start of the process. In this dance floor, the thought processes which trigger the negative emotions (and thus the ‘unmet needs’, in NVC theory) are exposed for what they are (a ‘story‘), and a view is offered of how the world would look without them. (Of course many variations of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) also attempt to work on the level of changing thoughts, but they typically fail to take the feelings and needs into account and so do not bring lasting results). NVC trainers Nicole Leipert-Knaup and Irmtraud Kauschat have gone a step further by copyrighting an effective ‘dance floor’ called the Glaubenssatz-prozess (Core Belief Process – only available in German), which adds the crucial steps of choosing and anchoring a new, life-affirming belief to replace the life-limiting old core belief. I am grateful to Yan-Christoph Pelz for introducing me to this process. It features the mourning of the unmet needs and the celebration of the met needs, which I find essential, but also many other steps which don’t bring me clarity and which lean rather towards the abstract and intellectual.  Kirsten Kristensen and Farrah Baut-Carlier also developed a transforming process which rather goes in the opposite direction, with rather too much emphasis on the emotions for my liking, but which also adds in the ‘Turnaround’, or playful verbal deconstruction of the old belief. This is one of Byron Katie’s brilliant tricks. Katie’s world-renowned Work is powerfully dedicated to exactly the same mission of transforming core beliefs even though she doesn’t use those words. She also gave me the Reality Check, as well as a more explicit connection between the beliefs and the feelings and behaviours these create, which I find indispensable in completing the connection between body, heart and mind.

I have borrowed and condensed what I like best from all these approaches to create a new process for transforming core beliefs, which I believe is both simpler and deeper and which I have actively been working with since 2015. It has at its heart the energy forms which we refer to as human needs, and in exploring it we are guided to switch between the three main centres in the human organism where those energy forms manifest, namely the intellectual, emotional and physical centres. It celebrates the survival value of the old story and mourns the sacrifices which adopting that story has entailed for us. It loosens the verbal grip of the core belief, puts all the needs on the table and explores alternative ways of meeting them by creating a new story and anchoring it. Finally a future course is charted which will manifest the new story rather than the old. In this way the process attempts to cater for all types of human response patterns, encourages us to include and balance the centres and guides us to making lasting new agreements with ourselves which will better serve our needs. It’s summarised and represented here as a visual map. In group workshops I use floor cards for the key stages of the process and involve participants in support roles.

I’ve received amazing feedback from this process and as far as I can tell, it is very reliable, with at least a 95% success rate as I have measured it.  Assuming one is reasonably fluent with the language of feelings and needs, no special conditions are required other than having at least some doubt over whether the belief is true,  some awareness of choice in the present moment, and some courage to face what may come up during the process. However, I generally offer it as part of a full day or two-day workshop and find that the involvement of a group is both valuable and instructive for all. Exploring the themes common to the various kinds of beliefs and how these show up in our lives is a good preparation for the work and promotes an empathic and supportive environment. It also makes it more powerful to have a process witnessed and ideally to embody it in some sort of ceremonial form.